THE PLOT: ‘The Return of the King’ by J.R.R. Tolkein is the third volume of the six-part novel ‘The Lord of the Rings’. It opens in Gondor, the principal realm of men, which is preparing for a siege against the dark forces of Mordor. Through waiting for their allies, the riders of Rohan, to come to their aid and the secret return of the heir to the throne, the book chronicles the key battles in the war between Sauron and the free people of Middle Earth. Crucially it covers the hobbit Frodo’s entrance into Mordor and his attempts to secretly cross enemy territory to destroy the ring of power.

RATING: These books have grown on me and I enjoyed reading this final volume. I feel like this is the book that most departs from the films, which I found very exciting. In particular, Frodo and Sam’s struggles to cross Mordor, Faramir and Eowyn’s relationship, and Pippin and Merry’s experiences in Gondor and Rohan were very entertaining and suspenseful. However, the battles were a tad boring and I struggled through the long tales of homecoming. I think I had settled into Tolkein’s writing style by this point, which is why I found it easier to get through, and part of why I’m giving it four stars.

GOOD BITS: My favourite aspect of the book was Sam and Frodo’s journey across Mordor because there were additional dangers and challenges not shown in the films. The orcs in the guard tower created a lot of suspense and I loved how Sam became the true hero of the story (most of it even seemed to be from his point of view). I also liked the scenes with Merry and Pippin. It felt like they had proper character arcs and growth (physical and metaphorical).

NOT SO GOOD BITS: I’d heard that the beacon scene was based on Aeschylus’ ‘Agamemnon’ but that must be in the films because it was very anticlimactic in the books. However, Tolkein did seem inspired by ‘The Iliad’ as all the allies of Gondor were named slowly, which was kind of boring. Before starting the book, I had heard of the extra details at the end regarding the battle in the Shire and I was looking forward to reading it. Though it was somewhat enjoyable, it felt a bit absurd and anti-climactic because the main danger of Sauron was destroyed and Gandalf had already foretold that the hobbits would easily deal with the problems at home.

OVERALL: I’ve reflected on this a lot and I will retract my earlier statements about Tolkein not being a good novelist (which I put forth after reading ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’). Tolkein’s plotting and pacing is extremely good and, though I still feel there is too much backstory and it could have been tighter with a truncated timeline, I enjoyed reading the books. If I had to choose, I think I prefer the films as there are storytelling choices that sharpen the narrative. But I’m glad I read these and would encourage you to read them if you’re a fan of Middle Earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: